The Victim

Angel's Flight, Vol. 4.1 (1978)

Donna Beckman

Max had been in a concentration camp. As many times as I saw the tattoo on his arm, I don't remember what the numbers were. The ink was blue and the hair on his arm curled over it. I could rest my cheek there when we were in bed and look up into his face. He was dark, gypsy brown. His hair was black and curly, and his nose was sharp. His eyes were the same color as his pipe tobacco.

I think there were a letter and four numbers, but I'm not sure. If I close my eyes and try to imagine his arm, I can't but sometimes I think I hear his voice.

"That's my girlfriend's phone number. I don't want to forget it," he told someone once about his arm.

I wanted him to fuck me the first time I saw him . . . he was a married lady's fantasy I amused myself with on boring afternoons. Late at night Max and I drank coffee and talked while his wife worked and my husband slept. We talked about sex, but we didn't touch.

Their marriage was a mystery. Max was a European intellectual; he smoked a pipe, drank dark coffee, and played chess. She was a waitress. Her name was Sherry and she wore a pink uniform, a pointed hat, and white orthopedic shoes. She took a lot of valium. He was nicer to her than she deserved. Sherry and I were good friends, of course. On Saturdays they came to our house and on Tuesday nights we went to theirs. In between she called me on the phone.

Max killed a man once with his bare hands. He bludgeoned a Nazi motorcycle soldier with a wrench until the man died. It was after Max escaped from the camp. He stole the soldier's gloves.

The phone rang. "Hi, it's Max," he said. I could hear the traffic in the background.

"Where are you?" I asked.

"On the corner of Vermont and Santa Monica," he shouted. He was close to my house.

"I thought you moved to Phoenix," I said.

"What?" he yelled.

"I thought you moved to Phoenix."

"No," he shouted. "It didn't work out. I'm back."

We played chess at night and talked a lot about Goethe or the concentration camp. As punishment he was once put in a hole for ten days. It was underground and big enough for him to sit in, but not to lie down. The first day they opened the cover to throw in a piece of bread. In the sudden light he could see the circle of rodent eyes. He missed the bread they threw at him. It fell onto the damp floor. The rats surged at it and before he could bend to pick it up, it was gone. He slept crouched, ready to awaken instantly to catch the bread they threw randomly into his hole.

"I've just gotten into town," he said. "I'm broke and I've got no place to stay." A siren drowned his next words.

Sex with Max was always good for me. He took a long time to come so I could drift into fantasy. His mouth tasted of pipe tobacco. His pubic hair was even thicker and blacker than the hair on his head. He had a nine inch scar below his stomach. "I got it in a sword fight," he explained. It was slow with Max, but after he came he would grab his head and writhe and yell "No, no," as tears squeezed from the corners of his eyes. "When I come, my head hurts," he said.

After my divorce I invited him to my house. He and Sherry were not yet separated and he refused to come.

The last time we fucked was on a summer night. I picked him up at his house. "Where are we going?" he asked.

"I'm not going to tell you," I answered. There was no moon. I drove into the hills and stopped in front of a darkened house. He was breathing hard and the smell of his sweat filled the car.

"Come on," I said and he followed me. The house was low and long and hung white in the darkness. I led him through a gate to the left of the house into the back yard. A swimming pool loomed, a black hole. Far away there were lights but on the hilltop it was dark. The trees were black against the sky.

"Take off your clothes," I commanded. I expected him to hesitate or to question, but instead he stood before me and waited.

He was nine when they took him to the concentration camp, and he wasn't even Jewish. His mother was a concert singer and his father was an Egyptian diplomat who visited twice after Max was born. He lived with his grandfather and his mother in Vienna. His grandfather was a politician and when the Nazis came to Austria, Max's grandfather condemned them in public speeches. His grandfather died in the camp a month after he was put there. His mother died after a year of singing for the German officers.

I led him by the hand to the swimming pool and pushed. I watched the black water close over him. It was a long time before we came up. He sat on my lap on the steps of the pool and sucked my tits. The wind came up and blew through the trees and I could see that he was crying.

His grandfather and mother were asked to sign a paper. It would become a public document of support for the Nazis and then they could resume their lives. They refused and long after they were both dead and the war was over, Max wondered why they didn't sign. When he ran through the forest, after he escaped and before the end of the war, he was in the most danger. He could be shot by soldiers from either side or by German people. There was nothing to eat but an occasional dog. He took the gloves off of the dead army officer's hands and put them on his own. The first time we fucked, we met in the middle of the room and lay on the floor. Neither of us came.

"I can't believe you are going to leave me waiting here, on this corner," he said. "Come pick me up."

"No." I said, "No." One German officer hid Max during medical checks. He probably would have joined those waiting in line to die; he was tubercular and thin. His hands were beautiful, soft on the palms, fingers straight.

"I can't, Max. I can't come now."

"I don't believe you," he said. "I'm going to wait here."

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