Max Helter

His name was: MAX HELTER

He had legs of tin (well greased against the brine.) and lived in a derelict Boat House, at the northern end of a small isolated Bay. The Boat House had once served as a Life Boat Station.

The Bay was enclosed by high cliffs

The Boat house was constructed of wood and supported on a pier of flaking pig iron, which leaned, somewhat pointedly, towards the sea, giving the strong impression it might one day launch the boat house after the long vanished life boat it had once housed. Folding doors, blighted by neglect and weather, opened unwillingly onto a timbered slip way, which ran down in a lopsided curve to a beach of rolling shingle, part snared by broken groynes .

The sea lay beyond.

The Station had been abandoned thirty years before after the Life boat tragically foundered in a storm with the loss of all hands, whilst attempting a rescue.

It was deemed a luckless spot, by the locals, and seldom, if ever visited. They called the place: Neptune’s Anus.

The wooden groynes, long since breached by storm and tide, stuck out of the shingle like rows of broken teeth, each tracing a series of uncertain lines towards the sea. Max would often follow their course, all easily seen from his elevated position on the boat house ramp, and with fingers raised, trace their shapes in the air, humming as he did so, and muttering, “ha ha” when he noted some new, water torn abbreviation.

His tin legs were a poor substitute for the bone and sinew originals. They chaffed, pinched and squeezed his flesh, causing sores that never quite healed; ( despite the balm he applied so liberally) and when he walked, the hurt of it ,would often catch in the lines of his face and cause him to gasp involuntarily. He’d been fitted for plastic legs, doll pink and foam cushioned, but fearful for his sanity left the hospital before they were ready, on a pair fashioned by a janitor in the hospital workshop.

He had once been a dancer of some acclaim; and even after the accident, which took away his legs, he struggled to dance, egged on by the itch of phantom limbs.

He had discovered the Bay on an outing from the hospital, and persuaded his nurse, to wheel him down onto the shingle by way of an old track cut down through the cliffs. When he saw the old boat house, on its pig iron pier, he knew he would live there.

Once traced, the owners of the Bay and a ribbon of land beyond the cliff edge were more than happy to sell. It had been a poor investment and they were glad to be rid of it.

Max was not perturbed by the Bay’s woeful reputation.

He found solace in the isolation and uncertain nature of the Bay, and failing sickness or storm, the dawn would find him seated, close wrapped in oil skin and cap, beside the boat shed doors, swallowing greedily on the early morning chill, swallowing down the icy mist, mouth open wide, until his lungs unable to take more, protested with a fit of violent coughing . In this fashion he stamped his presence on the day.

A distant noise like the roll of thunder, the striking of a temple drum perhaps, would sound occasionally in the background. An apprehensive counterpoint maybe.

Sometimes he would shout out:

“I am here! I am here! Do you see me with my legs of rigid tin?”

And back would come the faint, wind torn reply:

“ We have no eyes to see, but we hear you, we hear you, Max Helter”


*Excerpt from The Shingle Dance – 1998.

Copyright Ian Miller 1998.

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