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Gabe Herron

Art Scene: The Great Maximilian vs. Musca Domestica

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"Funny, the one thing most the world agrees upon is also the most disagreeable thing about the world." —Carlos Maximilian, painter 1953-1987


Coco and Carlos Maximilian have been expecting me, but a voice I don't recognize buzzes me up. She speaks soft Spanish so low I have to close my eyes to hear it. I knock on the penthouse door and this same soft creature opens it wearing only tan leather boots and a g-string the color of strawberries. She smiles. She is petite. A lovely mestizo woman with pearlescent teeth, high cheekbones, and long black hair down to her waist. I followed her into the living room. I'm a marionette. She disappears, saying something I don't understand because my Spanish is atrocious.

Their apartment is cool, quiet, and luxurious; Polanco is a powerful juxtaposition to the rest of Mexico City. I hate traveling here but I'm a peace offering from my father, whom Maximilian distrusts. No man should be trusted less than the man who stands to profit, both our paychecks bear his name on the signature line, but we all stand to profit, so maybe trust is just believing a person will act in a certain way when money is involved.

The living room is all white, including the carpet, everything else is marble and stainless steel, modern; the point being the only thing breathing life in this room is the artwork—most of it Maximilian's. A room designed around the art, more like a museum than a home. How all artists would have it, how it probably should be, but never will be—great art should hang in public galleries and museums, but increasingly it hangs in vaults, vacation homes, and corporate lobbies.

Coco wanders out of the master bedroom wearing a white muslin dress. I can see the outlines of her black panties and a darkening at the nipples. I try not to think of Coco in this manner because it's an instant disadvantage, enter the predator, every time I see her these words fill my mind like a fire bell.

"I'm sorry for keeping you. I had to shit." She still speaks with a slight French accent, almost gone now from all the years in Mexico and South America.

"Thank you for seeing me at all on short notice. I know you and Maximilian are very busy," I say.

She is a beautiful woman in her own way. Her body is perfection, a famous body, an eternal body, featured in so many paintings the world round, but her features are harsh.

"I am very busy. Indeed. You are very busy. Yes. But Maximilian, busy?" She raises her hands in the air. "You must be making a joke."

"I won't lie," I say.

"But you will lie," she interrupts, "You all lie. The next thing you tell me will be a lie. I know it already but tell me anyway. Did you meet our little Venus Rosa?" She brushed passed me and dropped herself down on the white leather couch, "Sit." She pats the couch next to her as if I'd been made her pet for the day.

"Yes, I did," I say.

"Stunning. No?"

"Yes, beautiful."

"Well, at least you don't lie to me yet. Maximilian's newest model. He claims to be in love with her but he isn't." She looked out the floor to ceiling windows across Mexico City's brown hazy blanket to the volcanic mountain range. "Look at Ixtaccihuatl today, gorgeous…you know it means white woman." She rubs her temple. "You should take her with you when you go. A party gift. I think we must bore her."

"Somehow I doubt that." I could smell just a whiff of jealously within her comment, and I wondered if she was losing control over him.

I squirm and the leather scritches.

The Great and All Powerful Coco.

Everyone knows a Coco story or two. Coco with the Cuban National Jai Alai champions, their coach, and possibly his teenage son, but much later in the evening after the others had been done in, Coco with the super model in Paris, Coco with a half dozen Thai prostitutes, Coco with Coco, on a table at the Tunnel in New York City. Her use of sexuality for promotion is legendary; a publicist I know nicknamed her Sledgehammer. If Maximilian hasn't made the press before a show for his own extravagant sexual appetites, or bizarre drug habits, then Coco will make press with her dependable libido, between the two of them they're better than any ad agency—much cheaper too.

My father depends upon The Coco and Max Show.

She examines me, waiting for my discomfort. "I hope she doesn't make you uncomfortable."

"Of course not," I say.

Her eyes widen. "Your first lie."

"I am married. You know this." I lifted my ring hand.

"We were there. I didn't mean that, but a simple ring would stop you?"

" just the ring." I shake my head.

"You will maybe be the first then," she snorts.

"Maybe. I'm here because the gallery is concerned...."

"Your father is concerned. His favorite sucking tit has gone all dry like chalk."

"Yes," I say. "But I think we're all, well, we hear all sorts of strange rumors. We don't know who or what to believe. He has pancreatic cancer? His kidneys have failed? He hasn't left the apartment in nine months? He sniffs glue with the Resistoleros in the streets? He says he will never paint again? He paints all day and night?"

"Pfft. Maximilian will paint again. Maximilian is art. He is in fine health. He is taking a break—that is all. He's on sabbatical."

"He's on contract," but I could tell that was the wrong thing to say, so I quickly withdrew, "Does he leave the apartment?" I ask.

"No, but what should that matter?" She twirls a strand of hair with her finger and shifts on her long legs. I try not to look. I'm unable. She is watching my eyes. She is so keenly aware of her powers over men that it saddens me. "He doesn't leave because he is convinced Mexico City hates him, that it's out to destroy him. It isn't his fault you know. The troubles he found on those streets in his youth follow him still today. I think sometimes he may be right."

"I don't blame him either. Is he here?" I ask.

"Aren't you taking notes? He does not leave. He was excited to hear you were coming."

"He was? Now I think you might be the one lying."

"You shouldn't," she says. "He was very excited for your visit. He thinks you have great potential, for what I have no idea."

Maximilian can barely bring himself to speak to my father, let alone me, and my father has purchased almost every piece of art the man has produced in the past fifteen years, under contract of course, but at prices, many claim to be exorbitantly high for a gallery. Too high. My father has staked his reputation, and to some extent our family's financial well-being, on Carlos Maximilian, and Maximilian treats him like a recently expelled dog turd for his efforts. I find it dumbfounding; the only man my father allows to treat him poorly is terrified to go outside his own house.

I pull the contract from my attaché case.

"Yes. Yes. I know what that says. You will be the first to know when Max starts painting again, but for now...for now, he is just empty. He needs a break, you would not understand—a race horse must be given rest."

"But you must understand that we cannot continue to write monthly checks forever, if, if he is not painting in return. We will buy everything, like always, but it has been almost two years."

At this point, a small housefly lands on the contract in my lap. I notice Coco is paying very close attention to this housefly.

"Yes, of course, we understand. If you would like, we will repay you the past ten months, plus interest, at a fair rate, then no more contract."

She eyes the housefly giddily.

"It's not that," I say.

"Well, good, there is no problem. Maximilian! Maximilian! A housefly!" She hollers with excitement over her shoulder, then turns and dashes down the hall to the master bedroom, her dress floating out behind her tan body like gossamer.

I watch the housefly.

It is just a housefly.

I look around the room, white, sterile, except for the paintings of course, 100% pure genius I'm afraid. What all the fuss is about. Incredible. My father will be depressed if I come back with nothing. I roll my wedding ring around my finger with my thumb. I miss my wife and children. I already know I will come back with nothing.


Coco returns from the bedroom. "You must see this. You simply must. I have never seen anything like this." She claps her hands. She is excited. I don't know that I've ever seen Coco excited before, or anything but stone-cold blasé, like a facade over a facade over a facade with nothing behind. She points to the contract, "Max, it is still here, hurry, hurry, love!" She turns to me. "Oh, God. It is meant to be. It lays still, on the contract, just waiting…See?" Again, she claps with anticipation.

I'm rattled when I see the beast emerge from his den. I haven't seen Max for almost two year, since the Madrid show. He has fattened and stopped cutting his hair. He is wearing a Mexican wrestling costume, all white and silver, with red sequins around the eyes and mouth of the mask. He is bare chested under a great white cape bedazzled with a hundred-thousand rhinestones.

Coco sits beside me and seizes my arm. Her long nails biting into my soft skin.

Maximilian stalked towards me, slowly, awkwardly, with the wide gait of a baby or a baboon. I can hear his breathing. I can see his arms and chest are covered with some kind of oil. The room fills with his stink; it's repugnant, like the slum bars of the city he so distrusts—shit, sweat, old urine, and dirty laundry mixed with something different, something you smell at the mental hospital, that bioelectric crazy smell.

I think of my poor uncle but for a moment.

Maximilian stops just short of me, hunkers over himself huffing, his breath smelling of hot cabbage soup and old garbage. Coco shifts on the couch and leans forward like a panther testing its footing before pouncing.

She bows her head down next to the contract—almost in my lap.

She puts a thin cool hand on my knee for balance.


I freeze.


She looks up at me, then down at the fly, smiling, letting the moment fill with itself...and then she blows on the housefly. It pops into the air, hovers for an instant, just a moment in time, and then Maximilian takes a wild swing at it with a closed fist, nearly missing Coco's jaw, and then another haymaker swing, nearly hitting the top of my head. I feel a breeze come off the swing, but the housefly easily escapes these attacks unperturbed.

Maximilian grunts, and swings his arms wildly, dancing as if he's on fire. He wheels around the room chasing the fly, trying to catch the fly in a bear hug, trying to smash it into the divan with a body slam. Coco is erect and giggling with delight. She claps her hands with wild encouragement. He knocks a piece of his own art off the wall. I cringe knowing its value. He upsets an end table trying to close line the housefly and sends an ashtray full of cigarette butts dancing across the polished stone floor.

I want to run.

I want to hide.

At the same time, I want to watch a man fighting a housefly, it's ludicrous, but I want to know who will win. I want to know how things turn out. Maximilian vs. the housefly?

In this way, I will not come back from Mexico empty handed. I will have the story about how Maximilian has finally lost his mind, and perhaps then my father can regain his, and we can all move on with our lives, move on to newer and healthier visions for ourselves.

The housefly lands on one of the windows that look out onto the smoggy cityscape. Maximilian is doubled over, catching his breath. He has lost his quarry and I am glad for it. He scans the room. Coco watches him with something approaching reverence. She spots it, or has never lost sight of it, and points, "On the window, my love, on the window!"

He looks ahead, sees it, and runs full speed into the window, hurling his girth against the glass, but the window doesn't break, it quivers, and his head thuds off it. He lands flat on his back, then jumps back to his feet to prove nothing is wrong, nothing at all. His cape is askew. He reels like a punchy boxer. When he finally thinks to look down on his bulbous stomach, he finds the housefly. He picks the black speck off his belly, holds it above his head like a champion and stammers, "Triunfo!"

"Venus Rosa! Rosa! Rosa! Come quickly," Coco yells.

Venus Rosa appears, still wearing only tan boots and a red g-string. She is no common prostitute. She is elegant. She would be a model in another country and maybe she is in this country.

"Give it to her my darling." Coco purrs. "Give her your furious plunder my love."

Maximilian approaches this beautiful woman, who is now parting her legs in a wide stance and pulling aside her little red covering. The heels of her boot slip on the marble, she seems like a newborn fawn, but she regains her balance quickly.

It's as if she is well practiced.

She bares herself.


She is cleanly shaven.

She is clearly unashamed.

Maximilian crouches down beside her, pinches the fly between his thumb and finger, and pushes it up inside her. Suddenly, I feel the room swaying as in an earthquake. I want to vomit and then breathe clean air—I will have to leave Mexico City to find this clean air, but clean air is all that I want for the rest of my life; to breathe easy clean air will be enough for me.

I must leave now to breath.

Venus Rosa coos softly, sensually, and Maximilian rises to his feet. He kisses her neck through is mask. He sticks his tongue out of his decorated mouth hole. He takes her hands, turns them over in his own hands, and licks her palms like a cat at a bowl of milk. She giggles and squirms. He takes her by the waist, swoops her up and they disappear together down the hallway.

I feel as if I have fallen into the lion's pen at the Chapultepec Zoo.

I feel very low on the food chain.

Coco turns to me and speaks so that only I will hear. "The truth is, and I will actually tell you the truth when I say it is the truth, Carlos has become impotent and cannot paint in such a state. As you can see, he is going to great lengths to cure his ailment but nothing seems to work." She reaches over and grabs my crotch. I think she expected to find me excited. She pulled her hand back and shrugs. "But I guess he is not the only one. God, I think I will die of ennui in this fucking place."

"I have to go," I said.

"Of course. Tell your father never to contact us again."

"I will," but I won't.


I left, escaped really, letting myself out, leaving them to slowly kill each another over that long hot summer, trapped in that white marble mausoleum high in the Mexican sky, but I'm sure you've read about all that in the papers, or seen in on the news. I've written this account to answer the question that everyone keeps on asking me.

Why? Why did they do it?

And this will be my answer.

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