I got a call and a woman’s voice asked me, what you have to recommend yourself. I rattled off the usual litany of credentials. When I finished trying to justify my existence, she announced, “This is Maxine Dufresne.”
She waited to gauge my reaction.
“Really? As in Maximum Woman?”
“You’ve heard of me.”
“I used to be in love with you. Me and every other male in my seventh grade class.”
Maximum Woman had been a big deal hyper-evolved heroine some twenty-five years ago. She had been perfection itself. I tried to envision what she would look like now. There were so many like her in Remembrance Acres, old superstars and crime fighters who ended up in retirement homes or begging on the street corners.
“I’m in the emergency room of Preservation General, very sick. They tell me I’m dying, actually. I’ve asked for a bed. They refused me. They forced me to lie on the floor, like an animal. The nurses and the doctors flit around, poking, inspecting, consulting, and nodding gravely. Is a bed too much to ask for? I just want to die in bed with what is left of my dignity.”
“You’re on the floor? The floor? The bottom of the room?”
“The cold linoleum. Where they mop. They won’t even take me into the treatment area with the other patients. I am lying on the floor of the waiting room.”
“Let me see what I can do.”
I drove to the hospital E.R., and went to see the nurse who had pulled charge duty that night. I knew her well. Dolan was her name.
Charge nurse Dolan obsessively collected recipes. It was a weakness with her. She even stockpiled dishes she’d never be able to bake because the main ingredients could not be found in Remembrance Acres. I had been holding back a killer Blowfish Frau Diablo for an occasion like this.
I waved the 2 by 4 card under Dolan’s nose, showing no more than the title. “So what’s the scoop with Maximum Woman? Why won’t you give the lady a bed?”
“Shit, Flookz, did she drag your sorry ass in her to give me even more grief? Like I haven’t had enough to deal with over her.”
“What’s the matter? Getting burnt-out on celebs in the E.R.? Too much bad press? Too many paparazzi hanging out around the bed pan sterilizer? Put the lady in a bed.”
“What’s this to you, Flookz? Did you get paid up-front? Or are you planning to chase the estate? I would recommend the former, from what the business boys say. Don’t quote me.”
“What’s this to me? More than a job. I was in love with her.”
“I would give her a bed, if I had a bed big enough for her.”
“You can handle an eight foot tall woman.”
“Take a look at her. Just go… get out of my face. You know where to find her. She’s in the waiting room. On the floor. You deal with her.”
There she was. Sprawled out like a toppled mountain.
Maxine Dufresne weighed half a ton. Literally.
To get Maximum Woman out of her home, Fire Rescue had to tear down the front wall. She wouldn’t fit in the conventional ambulance. They needed two forklifts to load her onto a flatbed truck. The paramedics rode in the open air, with their defibrillators and I.V.’s ready.
When they got to the hospital, they had to disassemble the electric door to the ambulance entrance so the forklifts could roll through. They got her as far as they could go into the hospital without causing major damage.
“Where the hell am I going to find a bed for her? We can’t even get her moved. And if we could move her, she wouldn’t fit in any of the elevators. We can’t get her in back. We can’t get her upstairs,” said Dolan.
“Christ, look at her.”
I held up the recipe card. “Try putting some mattresses on the old helicopter landing pad out by the parking lot. Put a tent around her, like a big top over a mash unit. Let her go out easy.”
Dolan followed my suggestion.
Hours later, after they got the tent set up, I went to visit Maxine. The air felt dirty and oily inside the tent. It smelled like it could be the home of a miser who was couldn’t bear to part with his old grease.
Maxine said to me, “You know I can’t pay you. But thanks.”
“It’s okay. I used to be your biggest fan.”
“Now I am yours. It won’t be so bad. Dying out here, in the open. At least not on the goddamn floor.”
A week later I got another call from Maxine. I was glad to hear her voice, though I wasn’t expecting it, from the way Dolan had been talking. I was glad even though I figured she was calling to hit me up for another freebie. Something had kept her hanging on.
She said she couldn’t sleep and she refused to die because of the sound of stiletto heels clacking on the tarmac. When I had suggested the old helicopter-landing pad, I hadn’t realized the local hookers were strutting their wares out along Route 4. The main center of this commerce was about a hundred and fifty yards from where they set up the Hospice Tent for Maxine. Immobilized by her mass, she could only lie there, listening to the catcalls and wolf whistles and bargains struck in the night.
So I took up Maxine’s cause once again.
I went down to the strip.
I didn’t have much luck.
The cops were no help. Either the cops were customers, or on the take, or just didn’t give a shit. When I asked the girls in glitter to hold down the racket, they just laughed.
I said, “Have a heart. Maximum Woman is dying, and she doesn’t want to listen to this stuff.”
If anything, the girls pumped up the volume after my visit. The next night, the hookers showed up dressed as paranormal heroines, most of them copying the skimpy costumes Maxine’s old crowd from the Invincible Troubadours wore in the sixties. One of them wore a Maximum Woman suit, but a thong had replaced the bottom in back.
Maxine Dufresne, the former Maximum Woman, wasn’t about to tolerate the taunts and jeers of lawbreakers. She had fought crime for twenty years or more. She was too much of a fighter to just lie still. She traded curses with the whores all night long.
“Quiet!” she bellowed. “Let me die in peace.”
“You ain’t dyin’ bitch! You lungs too strong!”
Maybe having an enemy kept Maxine going. Three nights later, she was still alive.
And then, after the usual trading of insults, Maxine steadied herself and rose to her feet. With her vast bulk supported on wobbling IV poles, Maxine shambled out to Route 4. Every step of the way, she was screaming, knocking over trees with swipes of her hands, crushing rocks with every step.
The hookers didn’t back down.
When she got to Route 4, Maxine was out of breath. She sat down on a curb, wheezing.
A stretch limousine chanced by at that moment. A mirrored rear window rolled down. An older gentleman with a white moustache poked out his head. He looked directly at Maxine. Then he pointed to her.
She stared for a moment in bewilderment, trying to muster the strength to deal with this intruder, whom she took for a pimp or some other kind of investor protecting his turf.
The old man flashed her a cagey grin. “YOU!”
“By god, I like ‘em fat!”
Maxine turned crimson. Wheezing, she raised her bulk again, and trudged back to her mound.
Weeks later, I ran into Maxine in a doughnut shop. She had lost weight. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she looked good, but she looked less like she was dying. She didn’t look like total shit. She had turned the corner that night. Maybe it was just getting up. Getting moving.
Maxine was buying doughnuts, about a hundred of them. And she ordered a five-gallon jug of coffee.
“Don’t you think you ought to lay off that sort of stuff?” I asked her.
“It isn’t for me.”
Now, on some nights, you can see Maxine taking doughnuts and coffee out to the working girls on Route 4.
Stuart Hopen’s writing has been published by various comic book companies, including D.C., Marvel, Eclipse, Amazing, and Fantagraphics. His science fiction novel, Warp Angel, was published by Tor Books, and his critical writing has published in Rain Taxi Review of Books and the Comics Journal.
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