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13 December 2015 @ 11:10 pm
LJ Idol Friends & Rivals: "Magpie"  
idol friends and rivals | week 2 | 1806 words


It started with spoons.

Max was about three at the time, or so his mother always said. It was her story—he was just a character in it. He couldn't actually remember that far back.

His mother said she realized one day that half the kitchen spoons were missing. She had no idea where they'd gone until she uncovered a stash of them in the back of Max's closet, hidden behind stuffed animals and winter shoes.

"Why on earth did you take these?" she asked him, and he told her it was because they were smooth and shiny.

She put the spoons back in the kitchen, and told him to leave them there.

Max didn't remember any of it, but he knew he used to visit the kitchen when he was little and take spoons out of the silverware drawer to roll across his hands and to tilt this way and that to catch the light. It was hard not to keep them, but he had promised he wouldn't.

He added other things to his collection, instead.

There were marbles, a toy sheriff's badge, a whistle, new dimes—nobody cared about those. Keys from the laundry-room junk drawer, or a ring his sister never wore, or the silver ball from the wooden maze game in the rec room… those got him in trouble.

"If no one's using them, why can't I have 'em?" he asked. He was the only one who loved them just for what they were. "Why do we have all those extra keys anyway? And why can't the maze game use a different ball?"

As he got older, he understood better about the things other people thought were important, even if it sometimes seemed like they were just making it all up. Anything unclaimed that he found could be his, so he started to wander, looking through parks and playgrounds, digging holes. Dented bottle caps weren't worth saving anymore, but a small makeup mirror lying under a picnic table was a good find. He spent hours and hours walking around town, searching for new treasures. Sometimes, it wasn't until it started getting dark that he realized how late it had become.

"Don't you ever play with Jack and Billy anymore?" his mother asked him in fourth grade, and again in fifth.

"At lunch," Max said. "But they're busy after school." Max was busy too, examining his collection, hunting for more to add to it, and sometimes just stopping along the way and staring off at the colors shifting and blurring in the distance. He'd started liking that feeling of just "tuning out," of letting sounds or colors wash over him while he drifted inside them, not trying to figure them out, just experiencing them as a kind of haze. He could get as lost in that as in his wanderings.

He didn’t seem to have much in common with his friends anymore. Soon he was in high school, either buried in homework or out walking and letting his mind drift and then randomly latch onto something interesting. He felt overwhelmed sometimes, like thinking was too much effort. He needed that mental time off to rebuild his strength.

Max started college right after high school, even though he had no idea what he was interested in. Geology seemed a good fit at first, but by the end of his freshman year he just couldn't see the point of any of it. Classes and more classes, tests, and arbitrary schedules… Who needed it?

Getting a job at a neighborhood supermarket wasn't hard, and the job was routine enough that he could tune out now and then if he wanted to. The rules, though—there were so many rules. When to show up, when to take breaks, calling breaks lunch even though it was three in the afternoon, having to wear the company apron, how and when to fill out inventory forms, how exactly to stock the shelves, remembering to log his time in and out. Max got more and more irritated with it all, and three months later he was fired.

He tried working at a Burger King next, which turned out to have as many rules as the supermarket, lots of them practically the same. After that, it was a car wash. Max enjoyed that, with the machines and the moving water, and then drying the cars off with towels at the end. He lasted two months there before he was fired for not showing up for work twice in the same week.

By then, Max wasn't sure he even wanted a job anymore. Watching television, or lying in his room staring at the ceiling, or roaming the town looking for more additions to his collection was about all he was good for. Then he stopped watching television, because it seemed like the television was watching him. His mother wasn't happy with Max's choices, but then she died and the house was put up for sale. Max was sent to Phoenix to live with his older brother, Luke.

Phoenix was big, and it was too easy to get lost. Luke wanted Max to get a job, but that didn't work out any better than before. One day, while Max was out wandering, he decided it would just be easier to stay lost.

He had his backpack with him that day, and his favorite treasures. He figured that was enough. The first night was okay—he found a good park bench to sleep on. The second, the police moved him along, and later he found himself arguing with a man in a ratty blanket over whether it was possible to "own" a specific bench or other sleeping spot. Max got used to how life on the streets worked, though. It had rules of its own, but schedules were mostly optional.

Max was living outside time. He'd done it before, here and there, but it now was the rule rather than the exception.

He couldn't say how many years passed like that. Luke might have come looking for him a few times, it was hard to remember, but Max didn't want to go back to Luke's world so it was better that way. Once in a long while Max caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror, and he always thought it was someone else at first—some raggedy man with a gray beard and wild hair. He'd catch on soon enough, but sometimes he'd look around the back to see whether it was really a mirror or some special machine where someone mimicked his every move.

He knew about those, about things that stole your thoughts and knew what you were going to do before you did it.

There were places that gave homeless people food or blankets or shoes, and Max went there sometimes—not often, because he didn't like being that predictable. He knew a lot of the other people on the streets, too, some of them friendly, some to watch out for. Mostly, he walked the streets and looked for interesting objects.

He found a silver dollar just lying next to a vending machine one day. He hadn't seen one in years, and this one was nice—new looking.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Jericho coming over. Jericho was another one of the street people, gaunt and grizzled and not all there some days. "What's that?" Jericho asked, always too interested in Max's stuff for his own good.

"Nothing," Max said, shoving it in his pocket. For his own part, he couldn't keep from wanting the tin-foil hat Jericho was wearing—even though it didn't do anything, nothing, he knew 'cause he'd had one himself, but maybe he just hadn't found a good one yet.

"Lemme see," Jericho said. He leaned in too close, like always, and Max thought Jericho was about to roll him for everything he had. But then he remembered the lady at the clinic telling him that was all in his head, that taking his pills would help stop it. Max often forgot to take his pills, and then that became a regular thing, because who knew what was in them anyway? Maybe it was just a method for controlling him, making it easier for other people to take his stuff.

Max shrugged Jericho off, and crossed over the street and up a back alleyway toward the middle of town. He searched as he went, until it got dark. He slept under a bush at the edge of a school that night, the kind of place Jericho never went.

When he woke up, he felt through his jacket, looking for the key he kept in the front pocket. He didn't know what the key opened, but there would be new places to try it later in the day.

Something was wrong—the pocket was empty, as if someone had gone through it. No, no, no! Max checked the other pockets. His money was gone too, and the gold necklace he'd found next to a garbage can. All the thieves had left him was lint, an old penny, and a bent paperclip. Max sighed. He'd been through it all before.

He checked for his most valued possession, the pocket watch he'd had since he was twelve. It was still there, pinned to his undershirt under layers of clothes. He grinned in relief. It was funny that he loved a watch so much, when he hated being bound to time, but the watch was beautiful. Not real silver, he thought, because it didn't tarnish, but that was even better. All he had to do was rub it with his sleeve, and it gleamed as good as new.

Max felt better, then. He got up and gathered up his stuff, slowly beginning another day. He headed toward the Guiding Light Mission, where they served breakfast and dinner for free. It was only a few blocks away, and the weather was nice. That was the kind of walking he liked best.

Crossing the parking lot toward the mission, something glinted in the sunlight, catching his eye. He went over to see what it was. A long earring sat on the ground, silver metal with blue glass beads woven through in a pretty design.

It was even more beautiful than the watch. Max picked it up and ran his fingers over it, turning it and watching it sparkle in the sun. Magical. He couldn't believe his luck.

He put the earring in his pocket, and stood up, shaking out his legs. He lifted his face toward the sun for a moment—so bright and wonderfully warm, like those days when he was a boy. Then he lifted his pack up onto his shoulder and walked over to the mission to see what kind of breakfast was waiting inside.


You may vote for this story along with many other fine entries here.

Elеnakehlen on December 14th, 2015 07:20 pm (UTC)
This is very enjoyable. I liked how the character evolved and changed, even though it was so far from the society-prescribed "norm".

I know a slightly similar real-life story that might interest you. A friend was a magpie when he was a kid, and his mother did not like it, because - what if the owner of the things he always found would return minutes later to find them gone? But nothing she did worked.
Then one day they were coming back from a grocery store, and the bag was full, with bananas on top. And as they were crossing the street, the bananas fell out, right in the middle, between backward and forward lines. And they noticed the loss directly, but couldn't come back for them because of moving cars. And right before their eyes, a car stopped, the driver took the bananas and drove off. My friend was aghast, and asked his mother, why? And she replied, that's what you might do as well with all your finds. And he never did it again :D
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 14th, 2015 07:34 pm (UTC)
Hah-- I understand that mother's message very well! While writing this, I kept thinking about people who tend to go back over the places they've been when they lose something important. And here, Max might have already taken it, which would be very disappointing for them.

Very creative teaching opportunity on the part of that mother. :)
Danmuchtooarrogant on December 14th, 2015 10:40 pm (UTC)
Wow, I'm still not sure how this effected me. I'm glad that Max got to live the life he wanted, free of restrictions, but what a rough existence to voluntarily choose. Well told, as always!

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 14th, 2015 10:52 pm (UTC)
This is told from his perspective, as someone who's unaware of his mental illness and its effects, and who has a different set of values from most people. This is sure not how I would view his life! But Max knows what makes him happy, and it's not at all what would make most people happy!

I'm glad you liked the telling of it. Thanks for reading!
(no subject) - eeyore_grrl on December 16th, 2015 09:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on December 16th, 2015 06:11 pm (UTC) (Expand)
bleodsweanbleodswean on December 14th, 2015 11:40 pm (UTC)
I really adore this. It's a strong answer to the prompt and an even stronger statement about possible whys..hows....Very introspective and yet the piece isn't preachy or bogging, it simply is exactly what it is. And what Max is! Great work!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 15th, 2015 01:24 am (UTC)
I wanted the challenge of telling a story about someone who has his own world and motivations, and is happy in his own way in circumstances that we would ordinarily see as tragic. He doesn't see them as tragic or wrong, and I am not sure I even agree with him! Which is why I so wanted to see this through his eyes. :)
(no subject) - bleodswean on December 16th, 2015 10:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Raised by Wolvessinnamongirl on December 15th, 2015 12:48 am (UTC)
This is great! I could really relate to Max, and it's a really good take on someone choosing to be homeless - outside of society by choice, rather than feeling forced to be. I've run across a few people like that; they simply have different priorities and it's pretty refreshing.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 15th, 2015 01:26 am (UTC)
For some people, it's definitely a choice they prefer, and Max is not someone who does well with a regular job or in a regular setting. I struggle to understand that POV sometimes, so writing it helps it make sense to me!

Thanks for reading and commenting. :)
cindy: misc fictsuki_no_bara on December 15th, 2015 03:53 am (UTC)
the progression of his life seems so inevitable, the way it seamlessly goes from hiding spoons to being homeless. to an outside pov it looks like a sad story, but it makes max happy.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 15th, 2015 10:02 pm (UTC)
I knew right away where I wanted this story to go, but it was a real challenge writing the middle. The transitions through his life so that you could see hints of what might be happening and where he might wind up were tricky. I wanted them to make sense, but not hammer the reader over the head with them.

You noticed all the things I'd hoped readers would here, so that's very nice to see!
Lenileni_ba on December 15th, 2015 12:02 pm (UTC)
Well, this was a great trip. I enjoyed watching his life unfold from his own pov, it makes sense that way. tks!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 15th, 2015 10:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! This is completely different story from his POV than it would be from anyone else's, and it's a story that isn't usually told. Well worth exploring, I thought!
(no subject) - leni_ba on December 16th, 2015 01:00 am (UTC) (Expand)
millysdaughter: rainbowmillysdaughter on December 15th, 2015 06:59 pm (UTC)
I feel sorry for Max, but I am glad he does not feel sorry for himself.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 15th, 2015 10:04 pm (UTC)
That's good-- I'd hoped that readers would feel that, and know that Max was happy in his own choices.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
adoptedwriteradoptedwriter on December 15th, 2015 09:16 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed this story. He's a great character. Maybe Max will show up again in another adventure? AW
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 15th, 2015 10:05 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it, and found Max interesting! I enjoyed writing him-- he was an unusual character, and very different from me. :)
rayasorayaso on December 15th, 2015 11:46 pm (UTC)
I thought this was absolutely wonderful! I really enjoyed the perspective of someone moving from childhood to adulthood with a developing psychiatric condition. It was so perceptive, and non-judgmental of what might drive a person to live a life as a homeless person. Great stuff!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2015 08:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Max was a character I wanted to both write and to understand, and seeing things through his eyes gives a completely different perspective on this kind of situation.
Teo Sayseternal_ot on December 16th, 2015 12:04 pm (UTC)
You did the transition well...It made me like Max as a kid ( I used to be a collector of random stuff as a kid)..then go "Oh! No..not exactly the right thing to do." To " Ah! that explains." and finally.."Stay blessed coz you are happy."
Max brought out varying emotions in me..So a Job well done! Kudos! Nice take...:)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2015 08:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for your kind words, and I'm especially pleased that you felt those transitions worked both for the character and the story-- and that you felt a lot for Max!
ex_uf0s886 on December 16th, 2015 05:02 pm (UTC)
i always love your work so much. it always feels so real to me :3
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2015 08:23 pm (UTC)
That is such a wonderful compliment. Thank you!
misfitmanor: Farawaymisfitmanor on December 16th, 2015 07:15 pm (UTC)
So interesting... not a perspective one would expect to see that often. I'd be inclined to be sad, feeling like this is such a wasted life, and yet, I don't suppose it is, really. Maybe some people just can't be held to common standards. Maybe Max is happy in his own world, just as he is. Thanks for the thoughtful piece.

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 16th, 2015 08:26 pm (UTC)
I was thinking of Max evolving into some level of schizophrenia as he got older (there's usually a late-teens/early-20s onset), and it honestly would be harder and harder for him to do and be what society expects of him under those circumstances. From his own POV, he has different interests and priorities from most of us, and his world has more of what he wants and less of what he doesn't. I think that's true for most people, though usually not with such difficult outside factors.

I'm glad this got you thinking, and thanks so much for reading and commenting!
m_malcontentm_malcontent on December 17th, 2015 12:06 am (UTC)
This is splendid. I expect little else from you, the depiction of mental illness seems real (and as I have a touch of a different variety myself I have a small sense of it).
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 17th, 2015 07:59 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! That is very high praise.

Here, as with so many mental illnesses, the changes may come on gradually enough that the person who has the condition doesn't realize what's happening-- and then later, can't distinguish their brain's warping of reality as being the problem rather than that something confusing or sinister is happening.

Trying to adhere to the regular world was a battle for this character, as it truly is for some people. If he's happy living on his own terms, however unstably, then what we have to offer may have no appeal to him at all.

Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting.
dee_aar2dee_aar2 on December 17th, 2015 03:15 am (UTC)
Lovely piece and an uncommon voice. I could connect with POV as having gone through the - break free from accepted norms - many a times. the sense of freedom of living your life on your own pleasing terms beckons but I guess for most part I am more grounded than I like to accept.

I loved the development of character and the at the end even though many may not understand , Max was actually happy with his life ... I guess at the end of the and the beginning of it that's what matters ... Everything in between is just temporary :) Good luck
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 17th, 2015 09:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you! And yes-- he is happy, even though most of us can't imagine being happy in his circumstances. I think this is true for a lot of people who live fairly far outside the norm.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
whipchickwhipchick on December 17th, 2015 12:26 pm (UTC)
I want to know so much more about him, but it's so neat to get him from the inside instead of from the outside. Cool, too, to start so far back in time, and I think that eases us into the narrative of his later life without the prejudging of who he becomes, if that makes sense.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on December 17th, 2015 09:14 pm (UTC)
I think my husband felt the same way-- that by seeing him from a young age and getting a sense of who he started out to be, we go through his journey with him and perhaps understand his choices a little better than we would if we were looking in from the outside and decided he was just lazy or strange, rather than realizing his behavior is somewhat dictated by who he is.

Thank you for the thoughtful comments, as always. :)